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Government braced for backlash on Syrian refugees

November 21, 2015

By Mark Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen |

The federal government is bracing for a potential backlash to its Syrian refugee plan – from public concerns about whether the migrants carry infectious diseases to criticism from the United States about a “perceived” threat to border security.

The preparations are contained in a detailed draft federal plan, dubbed “Operation Syrian Refugees,” that outlines how the government intends to bring 25,000 refugees to this country by the end of December.

The document includes several examples of how the government must be prepared if Canadians question the cost of the plan, where migrants are housed, or whether security screening is sufficient.

“While there is general support among target audiences to do more for Syrian refugees, concerns have been expressed regarding the timelines by which Canada aims to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees,” says the 72-page report, obtained by the National Post.

Concern over backlash was echoed Friday by two premiers as well.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said there will “absolutely” be appropriate screening measures in place for the new refugees, but cautioned that “what we can’t give in to, I think, is allowing security to mask racism. That’s the danger.”

Wynne took a message of harmony and tolerance to Ottawa’s main mosque Friday in a passionate show of support for the Muslim community.

Last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut were “not born from religion,” she told the packed congregation. “Every single one of us has been touched by this tragedy either directly or indirectly.

“It’s our responsibility as Canadians to make sure we guard against fear and that we resist the blame that can lead to racism and hatred.”

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard warned that Canada should never fall into the trap of becoming a “closed society” or move to restrict civil liberties because of concerns about security with refugees.

“It’s not our nature, it’s not our values,” he said.

“(The refugees) will be screened for security in a very professional way. And we are talking about families – families – children that saw their mother, their father, their cousin killed in front of their eyes, that had their village destroyed. We’ve always been there for the world and will be there again this time.”

The draft report for the government, meanwhile, cautions it must be ready to confront questions over:

Security

“The large movement of Syrian refugees outside of the normal immigration procedures for refugees have raised questions around the public security,” the report says. “Communications should acknowledge that there are security considerations and they are being incorporated in the Government of Canada’s efforts.”

The report adds that there will be the risk that someone will not pass the security screening and “we must be prepared to respond to media queries.”

Health

The report says that “the influx of a large number of minimally vetted refugees will certainly lead to perceived concerns to the public health of Canadians and the increased risk of infectious diseases.

“It will be essential to communicate that after preliminary health checks overseas, further medical screening will be performed in Canada. We will need to be prepared to answer questions about quarantine process for those who fail health assessment.”

International relations

The report notes the refugee plan could have an impact on multilateral relations.

“The US could be critical of a perceived threat to border security. EU reaction may ask why Canada is not taking on a larger share of refugees. Middle East host countries, as well as other countries, may be critical of Canada’s approach.”

Cost

The report says that because the costs of the refugee operation will be “scrutinized,” it will be necessary to “re-affirm the need and urgency in helping Syrian refugees.”

The report stresses that proper accounting and “timely reporting” of the costs will be necessary in order to be publicly transparent.

Housing

The report says that housing refugees on military installations “has the potential to create negative media attention.”

“Care must be shown to demonstrate that the Canadian government is providing satisfactory accommodations and support for the refugees.”

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